By: Quentin Shank
The first quarter of the highly anticipated match up of the Lakers and the Thunder, a possible western conference finals match, was to say the least not up to par. It was the Thunder pretty much running all over the Lakers. The only reason the score was relatively close was the rare low percentage shooting by the big 3 in the game (Bryant, Westbrook and Durant.) Ramon Sessions was definitely aggressive towards the end of the quarter, which opened up easy inside work for Gasol and Bynum.
The second quarter was going similar to the first, the Thunder started to pull away with James Harden’s scoring and ability to open the floor up. Then World Peace elbowed Harden after World Peace had made a great defensive play and finished the fast break perfectly. I saw the old Artest in his eyes as he viciously elbowed Harden in the backside of his head, in which Harden would not return, and squared up with Ibaka after the Thunder bench cleared in response to the elbow. I expect a big fine and a couple game suspension for the temper flare of the multiple offender. This did two things for the Lakers; hurt their momentum as they were starting to fight their way back and losing World Peace due to a likely suspension so close to the playoffs might hurt their chances of getting out of the first round. It also fueled the Thunder on top of two huge blocks by Ibaka that increased the lead to 13 right before halftime.
The third quarter was enticingly one sided because the Lakers looked horrible with Bryant on the floor. Bryant seemed frustrated with the no calls and poor passing that lead into easy transition buckets for the Thunder. After the lead jumped to eighteen Coach Mike Brown smartly took a timeout instead of letting the team try to fight through the drought.
Then towards the end of the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter the bench for the Lakers were starting which included a big game from Arizona forward Jordan Hill. As Bryant and Bynum sat, Bynum would not return to the game, the Laker bench battled with the starters of the Thunder. Then it really got exciting when the big lead was demolished by simple turnovers and shots just not falling for the Thunder. After two big three’s by Steve Blake the fans woke up and so did Bryant. I literally saw the Lakers morale go from zero to sixty in a matter of two shots. Then Bryant decided he was going to play today and took over in the fourth quarter with a barrage of shot clock beating one-footed threes and the famous Bryant one foot fade aways. It was back and forth in the last two minutes, smart plays by the Lakers and four clutch free throws by Westbrook. It came down to a last second three by Durant, which he missed but got a decent look at.
The first overtime was very physical and was like déjà vu from the end of the fourth. Gasol and Hill were very active during the first overtime as were Westbrook and Durant. It came down to another missed winning shot but this time by the Lakers.
As the second overtime started it looked like it was going to come down to the wire again. The Thunder would cause a turnover and get a fast break basket but then Bryant would answer with either a smart pass down low or one upping Sefalosha. Then as Durant would call for the ball Westbrook shook him away as the power struggle was too evident. Westbrook took it himself which had worked earlier but this time it turned into two or three bad shots that just gave momentum to the Lakers when they didn’t need anymore. Blake hit a ridiculous three and that was the dagger to the Thunder. They had good looks at the basket but Durant and Westbrook couldn’t buy one and the result was letting the game slip out of their hands. So the Lakers won a very important game against my pick as the best in the west. The Lakers did it without Bynum in the clutch moments. Does that mean something for the youngster, I don’t know. Anytime you can grab a win against the Thunder you’ll take it by any means possible.